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New course, Woods put Marana on center stage

Citizen Staff Writer



A sparkling new golf course with lush, fast greens. Tiger Woods’ comeback from knee surgery. A dynamic group of young pros.

Next week’s Accenture Match Play Championship in Marana will have several story lines, and the fans seem to be excited.

“Ticket sales are through the roof,” tournament spokeswoman Diane Frisch said Friday. “The response from the public with the announcement that Tiger is coming has been amazing.”

The new Ritz- Carlton Golf Course, Dove Mountain – designed by Jack Nicklaus – will welcome the world’s top 64 pros in Marana’s third edition of Match Play. Practice begins Monday and play starts Wednesday.

“Tucson has probably gotten lost to some extent until the (current) Match Play,” Nicklaus said last year, when he showed off his partially completed 7,849-yard, par-72 course – one of the longest on the PGA Tour. “Now, all of a sudden, it has become the central focus of the (PGA) Tour.”

Woods, the top seed, is currently set to face Australia’s Brendan Jones in the first round. Brackets will not be final until Sunday evening. If anyone withdraws – Justin Rose is the only question mark because his wife is expecting their first child – the brackets would be redone and Woods would face the first alternate, Richard Green of Australia.

Woods last hit a shot in competition on June 16, 2008, when he beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff at the U.S. Open.

“I’m as curious as you,” he said Friday during a conference call.

“It’s one thing to do it in a practice environment at home against my buddies for a little bit of cash. It’s a totally different deal to do it at a PGA Tour event against the best players in the world.”

Some of those players are young and hungry, including 23-year-old Anthony Kim, who led the United States to the 2008 Ryder Cup title with Woods recovering from reconstructive surgery to his left knee.

Other “young guns” include Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, 19, and Pebble Beach winner Dustin Johnson, 24.

The other top seeds are Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and returning FedEx Cup champ Vijay Singh, who has missed the cut in his last two events since returning from minor knee surgery in January.

They’ll all play a course that is “typically Nicklaus,” according to course general manager Kenn DePew, who came to Tucson after several years at the Ritz-Carlton golf site in Jamaica. The tournament will play on 18 of the 27-hole desert layout near the Tortolita Mountains.

That means intriguing and multiple bunkers, tempting space and undulating greens with eight to 10 possible pin placements for each hole. Nicklaus’ plan has always been to challenge with fairway bunkers and tricky greens. The courses are much like the predecessor here, The Gallery course to the immediate east, but larger and with more undulating movement.

The best news will be for the fans, who had to labor the past two years with a lot of walking.

“There is a central point on the course, a ‘hub,’ if you will, where spectators will have just a short walk to get to four segments or loops of holes on both the front and back nines,” said Wade Dunagan, Match Play executive director. “There will be some walking, but the Ritz-Carlton should provide a much more fan-friendly experience.”

The “Saguaro” Course (front nine) to the west and south of the Tortolitas, has two loops directed back to the clubhouse. The “Tortolita” Course (back nine) has two loops to the northwest and bends to the northeast and back, with ample grandstands and open areas for galleries.

“On No. 3 you can see shots coming in on 2 and 3, the approach on 4, a drive on 5, approach on 7 and drive on 8 in one little area,” DePew said.

DePew said the “fun hole” is No. 15, the only real drivable par-4 at 343 yards long. It carries over desert to an elevated green. Many tournament matches could be decided at the hole.


USA 17

Australia 8

South Africa 8

England 7

Denmark 3

Ireland 3

Spain 3

Sweden 3

Argentina 2

Canada 2

Colombia 1

Fiji 1

Germany 1

India 1

Japan 1

Korea 1

Taiwan 1

Thailand 1

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